Full list: Agriculture in the News

VPR: A New Network For Investing In Vermont’s Food Economy

Purchasing a CSA isn’t the only way for individuals to invest in Vermont’s food economy. Or, it won’t be, when Slow Money Vermont gets off the ground.

The new network, an offshoot of the national movement that aims to “bring money back down to earth,” will connect local entrepreneurs with investors in an effort to contribute to the state’s sustainable food economy.

“The idea is really about creating a community of investors that have a shared vision of supporting the local economy and the local food system by putting their money where their mouths are,” according to Eric Becker, chief investment officer at The Clean Yield, an investment advisory firm in Norwich, and one of the organizers of Slow Money Vermont.

The network will serve both traditional investors and “the main street investor,” Becker said in a phone interview Friday. That investor, in his mind, is someone who has between $1,000 and $5,000 that she’s looking to put to use.

“We want to address the full spectrum,” Becker said. “Vermont already has a robust support system for food and farm businesses, as embodied in the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, but the gap that Slow Money will address here is that there hasn’t been a good way for individuals to participate by putting their investment dollars into this area. So they can join a CSA or whatnot, but this is a way for them to actually to take the next step of perhaps taking their money out of Wall Street and putting it into the local community and into the local food system.”

Slow Money Vermont is being incubated by a task force within the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, according to a release from the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

Becker says the network will work with existing organizations to host events that bring together individual investors and food entrepreneurs. Slow Money networks in Boston and Maine are helping “move not just financial capital, but also social capital,” Becker says. “There’s a lot of relationships being built that pay off in ways beyond just finding that next investment dollar.”

Kimball Brook Farm in North Ferrisburgh has already benefited from the Slow Money model; farm co-owner Cheryl Devos participated in a national Slow Money event at Shelburne Farms in 2010.

“I pitched … the idea of a creamery in front of an audience, and then eventually came up with investors, partially through that event,” Devos said Friday.

Kimball Brook Farm now has 25 investors, 24 of which are in Vermont, Devos says. “They’ve been fantastic supporters of our business in the ups and downs of getting it started and getting it running.”

“Start-up businesses often don’t have capital that they can get through banks or the usual lenders, and these Slow Money investors help businesses like ours get up and running,” Devos says.

Slow Money Vermont is just taking root, and will grow in the direction that participants train it. For now, Eric Becker says the network is planning to put on a series of events around the state.

A network launch event will take place on September 16 on the campus of the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier.


Burlington Free Press: Vt. Technical College is future site for state lab

Nancy Remsen
September 5, 2014
Full Article

Vermont Technical College received unanimous endorsement Friday as the future site for a new laboratory operated by the state agencies of agricultural and natural resources. The college in Randolph was one of 19 sites state officials evaluated.

After an hour of questions, the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee gave the Department of Buildings the green light to move to the next phase of planning the laboratory project. The new lab would replace twin facilities destroyed when Tropical Storm Irene inundated the Waterbury Office Complex in 2011.

The dual mission guiding the services offered by the two labs is to protect human, animal and environmental health and foster commerce. Some recent laboratory work has included testing 1,000 samples from homes to determine if a dangerous pesticide had been used to eradicate bedbugs and testing of animal feed after Tropical Storm Irene flooded thousands of acres of cropland.

Since Irene, the two agencies have operated with reduced laboratory capabilities in five rented spaces, with the bulk of their work carried out in the Hills Building owned by the University of Vermont. The lease runs out in 2017 — which led state officials to focus new attention on finding a location and constructing a new building.

The charge for the two labs is to protect human and animal health, environmental health and foster commerce. Some recent laboratory work has included testing 1,000 samples from homes to determine if a dangerous pesticide had been used to eradicate bedbugs and testing of animal feed after Tropical Storm Irene flooded thousands of acres of cropland.

Several lawmakers on the oversight panel noted that details of the laboratory’s relationship with the college had yet to be negotiated. Despite the nominal lease, they worried the state might be stuck with some unexpected “overhead” expense.

“What is the financial arrangement?” asked Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia.

“We don’t view this as a revenue generator,” assured Dan Smith, interim president of Vermont Technical College. He said locating the lab at the college would offer myriad opportunities for students and faculty to collaborate with lab staff and for lab staff to utilize college classrooms and other spaces.

“This is not just another building on a college campus to us,” Smith wrote in a letter shared with lawmakers in advance of Friday’s meeting. “This is an opportunity to maximize the state’s limited resources in a way that serves the most Vermonters and will benefit generations of Vermonters to come.”

Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said talks with the college about ways to collaborate could begin next week — if lawmakers selected the technical college site. Buildings department officials also said talks would get underway on property management issues such as plowing, shared heating and cleaning.

State officials had made replacing the twin labs a lower priority compared to constructing a new state psychiatric hospital and replacing the office space lost in Waterbury. The hospital opened this summer and the new office complex is under construction.

Legislators also asked the state to research whether the laboratory services could be provided privately.

The study, delivered last winter, recommended the state continue to operate its own laboratory program. The report also said the two agencies should operate a consolidated laboratory.

Justin Johnson, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said the plan is for the laboratory to “sit in Agriculture” and for some laboratory personnel now in ANR to transfer to the agriculture agency. “The programs in the Department of Environmental Conservation would be customers of the lab,” he said. There would be a board with representatives from both agencies to oversee the collaboration.

Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P Chittenden, asked why the University of Vermont failed to score well as a potential site, given it, too, had potential to offer student and faculty collaboration. UVM proposed two possible locations.

“There was a very large flaw with both sites — the amount of room available,” explained Sandra Vitzthum, project manager with the Department of Buildings.

Ashe also asked if there would be workforce problems by choosing a more rural location rather than one in Washington or Chittenden counties.

Ross argued that it was more important to locate the lab in the best place to achieve its public mission rather than try to accommodate workers’ preferences based on their commutes.

Lawmakers also voiced concern that the design of the laboratory could boost future operating costs. That was what happened with the new state psychiatric hospital.

“I would put that forward as something to pay attention to,” Kitchel told state officials.

Assured that the Legislature would have future opportunities to reject the site or tweak the project as it unfolds, the committee voted 9-0 to select the Vermont Technical College site.


Seven Days LTE: Raw Deal

8/20/14
By Andrea Stander
Full Letter to the Editor

[Re "The Rise of Micro-Dairy: A Longtime Dairyman Thinks Big — By Going Small" and "Milk Test," August 6]: I appreciate Seven Days‘ coverage of raw milk and other food issues, but there are a couple of points I’d like to clear up:First, the author’s use of the word “trafficking” in reference to farmers who are selling raw milk perpetuates the idea that raw milk is some kind of radical, under-the-table commodity. The regulations are complex, but it is legal to sell raw milk in Vermont. In fact, generations of Vermonters were and continue to be raised on raw milk. Before milk became an industrial commodity rather than a food, most people in rural areas purchased their milk from their local farmer.

Second, if Vermont truly wants to have viable farms, there has to be room for small, grass-based, raw dairy operations, and the regulations that govern them must be reasonable and fair. As the potential customer quoted in the article said, “If all products were sold that way, I’d never buy anything.” What would happen to Vermont’s celebrated local food economy if everyone had to visit the farm before purchasing products at a farmers’ market? Or, what if all farmers had to waste precious time and fuel running around delivering their products to customers’ homes?

If you want to learn more about raw milk as a farm-fresh product or as an agricultural policy issue, please contact Rural Vermont. Visit ruralvermont.org or call 223-7222 for details.

Andrea Stander
Montpelier

Stander is executive director of Rural Vermont.


Fort Worth Weekly: Got Raw Milk? (Texas)

Fort Worth puts greater distance between producers and consumers of unpasteurized milk.
August 20, 2014
By EDWARD BROWN
Full Article

One hour south of Fort Worth, the serene setting of Rosey Ridge Farms fits the often-romanticized image of agrarian life. The roads are unpaved, and there’s barely a trace of modernity among the lush, seemingly endless fields of sunflowers and other crops. Proprietor Eldon Hooley has been working the land for eight years with his wife Lisa and their six children.

Two months ago, the Fort Worth City Council passed an ordinance that prohibits individuals from distributing raw milk from their homes. Although some doctors believe the substance has certain medical benefits, health officials see serious risks, including the spread of infectious diseases. Retailers have been prohibited from selling raw milk for decades, prompting many local raw milk lovers to drive to farms like Rosey Ridge, pick up containers, and take them home to distribute.

To Kay Singleton, a longtime resident of the Arlington Heights area, the ordinance is an affront. She became interested in unprocessed foods several years ago out of concern for her grandson’s health. After discovering raw milk, she decided to volunteer her porch as a drop point for individuals to pick up containers. She purchased an expensive cooler to keep the milk cooler than 50 degrees Fahrenheit –– unpasteurized milk does not have as long a shelf life as the pasteurized version.

Then the problems with the city started. At first, Singleton said, city code compliance officials began regularly “intimidating the driver who was unloading the milk” and would tell her that what she was doing was illegal.However, with no state law or city ordinance restricting raw milk distribution, she was convinced she wasn’t violating the law.

In May, four state health inspectors, two code compliance officers, and a police officer came to her house.

“They came and scared the bejesus out of my grandson by saying in front of him that I could go to jail,” she said. “Their tone was aggressive, as if I was a criminal.”

Singleton is so dedicated to remaining a part of the raw-milk community that she believes she has no option now but to move out of Fort Worth. Her home is for sale.

The ordinance, Hooley said, is “simply saying, ‘We’re going to take your rights away.’ ”

He said inspectors from the TexasDepartment of State Health Services have unfairly targeted his farm and, on at least one occasion, suspended his license (a Grade A raw for-retail milk permit) without due process. After Hooley filed a complaint, he said, one of the department’s directors called him, apologized, and reinstated his permit.

“If consumers do their research, and they decide what food they want, then they have a personal interest in it,” he said. “Now people want to buy direct from people they trust to provide whole foods.”

State Rep. Dan Flynn of Hunt County has been working on the topic for years: “The state law says raw milk is legal. Why can’t a legal product be sold at a farmers’ market?”

Raw milk has been verboten at farmers’ markets since 2000. Flynn said that if they can begin selling raw milk, individuals would have no need to take matters into their own hands. He recently sponsored a bill to allow the sale of raw milk in farmers’ markets, but it never made it to a floor vote. “It was late in the session, and time ran out” he said.

At committee hearings, more than 250 people testified, including numerous doctors who spoke about the medical benefits of raw milk in treating psoriasis and respiratory problems. “It would be disappointing if Fort Worth’s city council didn’t want the innumerable medical benefits from raw milk,” Flynn said.

Fort Worth spokesperson Bill Begley said the ordinance places “reasonable limitations” on the distribution of unpasteurized milk without prohibiting local residents from purchasing or consuming it –– only directly from farmers.

Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund that works to protect American farmers’ right to engage consumers directly, said the consumer health division of Fort Worth’s code compliance department is one of the most intrusive agencies he’s ever seen. Texas, he added, is one of the few places where state law allows the sale of raw milk while many cities ban it.

Despite the concerns of the Texas Medical Association and State Health Services, among others, Flynn plans to keep fighting.

“We have every intention of filing the bill again,” he said.


Washington Post: GMO labeling measure makes Colorado’s November ballot


August 20, 2014
Full Article

A proposal to require the labeling of genetically modified food qualified for Colorado’s November ballot, the secretary of state’s office announced Wednesday.

Backers of the measure, Proposition 105, submitted nearly 40,000 more valid signatures than the required 86,105.

The placement of the measure on the ballot could bring a huge wave of corporate spending, as was seen last fall in Washington state last year. D Groups opposed were funded in large part by food giants, such as Pepsico, Nestle, Coca-Cola, General Mills, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto and Dupont. Two groups opposed to the measure spent $33 million, while $10 million was spent by groups in support of it.

Colorado won’t be alone this year. A similar measure has already qualified for the ballot in Oregon. And Vermont earlier this year became the first state in the nation to enact labeling requirements. When legislators crafted the law, they were so sure of corporate pushback that they simultaneously created a $1.5 million legal defense fund. A month after the law was enacted in May, the state was sued by the associations representing grocery manufacturers, the snack food industry, dairy industry and manufacturing industry.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified one of the parties suing Vermont. It is the dairy industry.


Food Navigator USA: First Amendment challenge to Vermont GMO labeling law does not stand up, claims state AG

By Elaine Watson
12-Aug-2014
Full Article

Vermont’s new GMO labeling law (Act 120) does not violate the First Amendment because the disclosures it mandates are “purely factual” and the law “does not require manufacturers to state a particular viewpoint, such as whether GE foods are good or bad”, claims the state attorney general (AG).


Right to Know Colorado: Colorado GMO Labeling Initiative Makes November Ballot

Contact: Tammi DeVille Merrell, Right to Know Colorado, tel 720.467.0189, tammi@r2kcolorado.org
8/20/14

Colorado GMO Labeling Initiative Makes November Ballot

Backers of the Right to Know Colorado initiative to label GMO foods, Proposition 105, submitted nearly 125,000 valid signatures to
the Colorado Secretary of State – nearly 40,000 more than the 86,105 required – to qualify for the November statewide ballot.

DENVER (Aug. 21, 2014) – Right to Know Colorado proudly reports the GMO labeling initiative, which helps Coloradans make informed
decisions about the foods they choose for their families, will be on the ballot this November 4. The voter initiative requires the
labeling of genetically modified or GMO foods, and will appear on the Colorado statewide ballot as Proposition 105.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office announced on August 20 that nearly 125,000 valid signatures were received, giving the
Right to Know Colorado campaign 145% of the number of signatures required for placement on the ballot. Right to Know Colorado
submitted a total of 171,370 signatures by the August 4 deadline, with a 73% validity rate.

“This historic achievement is only possible because of the thousands of hours volunteers contributed to this effort,” said Right
to Know Colorado campaign Chair Larry Cooper. “We had more than 500 people collect signatures throughout the state with signatures
from every county in the state. The people of Colorado made this happen.”

“Thank you again to the hundreds of volunteers and the 171,370 people who signed in support of labeling GMOs,” said campaign issue
committee Co-chair Tryna Cooper. “Now we look toward to November and need your support. Go to our website at
RighttoKnowColorado.org, donate, volunteer, get involved, and vote YES on 105!”

Reflecting a July 2013 New York Times poll showing that a great majority (93%) of Americans are in favor of mandatory GMO
labeling, a recent independent survey in the state of Colorado shows that 75% of Colorado registered voters would vote yes to
require labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients sold in the state.

Proposition 105 asks voters if foods modified or treated with genetically modified materials should be labeled “Produced With
Genetic Engineering” starting July 1, 2016. To view the official ballot language, visit www.righttoknowcolorado.org.

“If GMOs are safe, as companies say, then why not label them on food?” said Larry Cooper. “Coloradans should not be left in the
dark about what they are feeding their families.”

About GMO Labeling

With no federal GMO labeling requirements in place in the U.S., it is estimated that more than 80% of conventional processed foods
contain genetically engineered ingredients, primarily from GMO corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beets and other GMO crops.
However, according to a July 2013 New York Times poll, 93% of Americans are in favor of mandatory GMO labeling. More than 64 other
countries require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Colorado joins more than two dozen other states, including
Oregon, Arizona, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, in calling for GMO labeling legislation. Mandatory GMO
labeling laws were recently passed in Vermont, Maine and Connecticut.

About Right to Know Colorado

Right to Know Colorado GMO is a grassroots campaign to achieve mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods or GMOs across
the state. Right to Know Colorado is built on the foundation that we have the basic right to know what is in our food and what we
are feeding our families. The campaign gives Coloradans the opportunity to make informed decisions about their diet, health, and
general lifestyle.

Food labels list and describe nearly every detailed component of the food product, from the caloric values and processing
information, to the fat and protein content and the known allergens. Adding a simple label for GMO ingredients would fulfill
Colorado consumers’ right to know, enabling them to make educated food purchases and dietary choices for themselves and their
families.

For more information visit www.righttoknowcolorado.org, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RighttoKnowColorado.


NBC: Far Out! Hemp Could Power Better Super-Batteries

8/12/14
Full Article & Video

Industrial hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana, can play a role in manufacturing super-powerful supercapacitors for energy storage at a cost that’s far cheaper than graphene, researchers report. The hemp-based technology took center stage Tuesday at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in San Francisco. A team led by David Mitlin, an engineering professor at Clarkson University, heated up hemp fibers to create carbon nanosheets that can be used as electrodes for supercapacitors. Compared with graphene, the hemp-derived carbon is “a little bit better, but it’s 1,000 times cheaper,” Mitlin told NBC News.

He has started up a spin-off venture, currently called Alta Supercaps, in hopes of commercializing high-temperature energy storage systems for oil and gas exploration. (Mitlin conducted the research while at the University of Alberta.) “We’re looking for partners,” he said. One challenge: In the United States, growing industrial hemp is legal only for limited research purposes, and even that’s been a struggle.


WUKY: Ky., Feds Reach Agreement Over Hemp Seed Imports

By Associated Press
8/16/14
Full Article

Ky. agriculture officials and the federal government have finalized an agreement on how industrial hemp seeds may be imported into the state.

After reaching the deal Friday, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture has agreed to drop a lawsuit filed in May over acquiring the seeds.

Under the agreement, the department will file an application with the federal government for a permit to import hemp seeds, and the federal government will process the Kentucky’s application quickly. The federal government also agrees that the process established by the state will control the cultivation and marketing of hemp.

The department filed suit in May against several government agencies after seeds ticketed for Kentucky were held by customs in Louisville.


Burlington Free Press: Vermont defends GMO labeling law

By Terri Hallenbeck
August 8, 2014
Full Article

Vermont has the right to require that genetically modified foods sold within the state be labeled, the state attorney general argued in papers filed Friday in federal court.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell defended Vermont’s new labeling law with a 51-page court filing. He asked the court to throw out a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Foods Association.

Sorrell also asked that several state officials, including Gov. Peter Shumlin, be removed from the lawsuit and contended that the National Association of Manufacturers should be tossed from the case because it had failed to allege harm.

Legislators passed and Shumlin signed the first-in-the-nation law this year knowing that food manufacturers were likely to sue. Sorrell has estimated it could cost the state up to $8 million to defend the law, with no guarantee the state will prevail. The law establishes a defense fund for the public to help pay legal bills.

Supporters of the labeling law argued that consumers want to know whether the food they buy contains genetically modified organisms. Genetic modification commonly is used for corn and soy to increase resistance to herbicides or enhance other traits in seeds.

The lawsuit, filed in June, argues that the law is misguided, exceeds the state’s authority and confuses consumers by suggesting that GMOs are unsafe with no evidence to support that. The lawsuit alleges the law violates food manufacturers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to label a product in a way they find unnecessary and misleading while also prohibiting them from using the word “natural” on genetically modified foods.

Sorrell and a team of lawyers he has appointed to work on the case argued the state may make labeling restrictions to promote “informed decision-making on matters of public health and the environment.”

The state also argues that the law steers clear of violating interstate commerce, as the labeling adds no burden that outweighs the benefits.

Pointing to two court cases, Sorrell argues that federal courts have upheld New York City’s law requiring the posting of calories on menus and a federal law requiring country-of-origin labels on meat on the premise that the laws allow consumers to make more informed choices.

Vermont’s labeling law is slated to take effect in July 2016 pending the outcome of the lawsuit.